Small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision are called floaters. You may see them more clearly when looking at a plain background, such as a blank wall. Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous, the clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye. Floaters can have different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines clouds or cobwebs.
While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are floating inside. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. The appearance of floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly. You should see an ophthalmologist right away if you suddenly develop new floaters, especially if you are over 45 years of age.
When the vitreous gel inside your eye rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what look like flashing lights or lightning streaks. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.”
The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes, you should visit your ophthalmologist immediately because it could mean that the retina has been torn.
At a young age, the vitreous is perfectly transparent. Over time as the eye ages, this vitreous humor can degenerate, losing its form and liquefying. The vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps or strands inside the eye. Floaters and flashes often occur when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye, causing a posterior vitreous detachment. In some cases, the retina can tear if the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. A torn retina is always a serious problem, since it can lead to a retinal detachment.
Symptoms of flashes and floaters are visual. You should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible if you suddenly experience a large floater or ‘shower’ of floaters, you see sudden flashes of light, or you notice other visual symptoms like the loss of peripheral vision.
For the treatment of floaters, floater laser removal may be recommended. Called vitreolysis, this procedure is non-invasive and pain free, and is performed in-office. Follow this link to learn more about vitreolysis.
If you are experiencing flashes or floaters, you should obtain a complete eye examination immediately. Please call our Norwalk and Stamford offices at 203.853.9900 for an appointment.